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Iran says it downed unmanned U.S. spy plane

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's armed forces have shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane that violated Iranian airspace along the country's eastern border, the official IRNA news agency reported yesterday.

An unidentified military official quoted in the report warned of a strong and crushing response to any violations of the country's airspace by American drone aircraft.

"An advanced RQ-170 unmanned American spy plane was shot down by Iran's armed forces. It suffered minor damage and is now in possession of Iran's armed forces," IRNA quoted the official as saying.

No further details were published.

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said in a statement the aircraft may be an American drone that its operators lost contact with last week while it was flying a mission over neighboring western Afghanistan.

Iran is locked in a dispute with the United States and its allies over Tehran's disputed nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies the accusations, saying its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and that it seeks to generate electricity and produce isotopes to treat medical patients.

The type of aircraft Iran says it downed, an RQ-170 Sentinel, is made by Lockheed Martin and was reportedly used to keep watch on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan as the raid that killed him was taking place earlier this year.

The surveillance aircraft is equipped with stealth technology, but the U.S. Air Force has not made public any specifics about the drone.

Iran said in January that two pilotless spy planes it had shot down over its airspace were operated by the United States and offered to put them on public display.

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